"What is Freedom?"
There is an interesting commentary on Freedom being played out center stage in current events. There are those who feel their "rights" have been infringed upon and they are fighting for their freedom as they protest for stay at home orders to be lifted.
But one must ask freedom for whom?
For the individual or for the entire community? For one or for all?
I do not pretend to know when the right time is for states to reopen, being neither a scientist or an economist. But as a follower of Jesus, I believe that Love is the highest law. I know that we are collectively grieving a lot. People are hurting. People are afraid. And yet I share in Jesus' concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the widow, the refugee, the incarcerated and the outcast.
What does Love dictate in this moment? What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves?
The truth is that often what we espouse as our personal freedom is not freedom for all. In fact, many times our privilege and choices are at the cost of the oppressed and vulnerable whether that is the sweatshop worker who stitched our new sweatshirt overseas or the migrant worker who is welcome to pick our fresh fruit but not welcome at our table.
The Coronavirus is only revealing the gross injustices that exist in our country in the pursuit of freedom. And while there is truth in our collective experience given that no one is immune to the virus, this pandemic is far from the great "equalizer". Instead, it is exacerbating the inequalities in American society, taking a disproportionate toll on low-income Americans, people of color, and others who were already marginalized before the crisis hit. The news from the nation’s prisons, detention centers, and the Navajo Nation is increasingly heartbreaking. Insult to injury in view of our nation's inhumane and systemic war on black and brown bodies.
For while the human heart is created for freedom, our culture's definition of freedom is in stark contrast to the freedom we see in the gospel.
Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." [Luke 4:18]
The American gospel could be stated like this: The Spirit of greed, individualism, consumerism and imperialism is upon us to procure good news for our own interests that is nothing but bad news for the poor, that continues to profit off of systems of white supremacy, violence and the imprisonment of black and brown bodies, that steals and ravages our land and disregards our responsibility to it and to one another, that turns a blind eye to the plight of the powerless, the needy and our neighbors who are suffering, and continues to pile on burdens to those already bowed down.
I have said this before and I will say it again. I believe that we are being given an opportunity to repent.To go another way.
Yes, it will require giving up some of our personal "freedoms" in order to be a part of the richness of a collective wholeness. But I hope we can see where our American gospel has gotten us. We are in need of healing like never before. The whole earth is groaning, heaving and sighing with labors pains, longing for redemption.
So perhaps we give up some of our preferences in order to actually love our neighbor. Perhaps we reorder our precious time so that we can tutor neighborhood kids. Perhaps we cultivate a neighborhood garden instead of one in our own backyard. Perhaps we rally the community to support our favorite local business. Perhaps we give up beef so that plant workers don't die. Perhaps we continue to walk our neighborhoods and ride our bikes and leave our cars at home. Perhaps we pass on our stimulus check to someone who can't pay their rent. Perhaps we humbly follow the directives to stay home so that the most vulnerable don't fall ill.
For most of us, these are very small sacrifices given overwhelming suffering. But we must begin to live into another story.
As our freedoms are currently constrained, it is a good moment to reflect on our privilege and our responsibility to one another and to our places. Is our freedom at the expense of others or is it a freedom for all that heals, restores, and liberates.
This poem by Kitty O'Meara has expressed a collective prayer for healing that is reverberating. It is a prayer of repentance and of healing.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply.
Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently. And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
May we begin to live into another way, a way of healing and freedom in harmony with our neighbor and with creation. May we rediscover what it is to be human and what it is to love one another. And may we make new choices and dream new dreams.
by Jessica Ketola
The Fullness Thereof by Randy Woodley
Rethinking Incarceration by Dominique Dubois Gilliard
Church Forsaken by Pastor Jonathan Brooks
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry